Our proposed destination was Penzance, but we diverted to the hilly town of Ilfracombe. What astonished me was how developed this town was. There were rows and rows of terrace houses all the way up the sides of the hills. The harbour is very tidal so when we arrived all the boats were sitting on the bottom. You could see how much the water would rise, about 4.5 metres, so it would look quite different at high tide.
The next diversion was Boscastle, famous for its television show about a female Methodist minister who produced a discrete male ‘nude’ calendar. The lower town is an old fishing village set in a rocky inlet. Later that year it again made the news as an enormous flood washed away much of the village. Unaware of its impending doom we explored the village with its shops displaying witchcraft and the occult and suffered in the freezing wind as the sun disappeared behind the clouds.
A little further along the road is Tintagel, where a ruined castle, reputedly the birthplace of King Arthur, stands on a promontory. It can’t be seen from the town, which was crowded with visitors and road works in narrow winding streets so we kept going.
It was then that we found a rare sight in the English countryside. It was a layby with tables and chairs. The sun was shining as we cooked toast and soup on the new gas burner. We must have been quite a sight for the passing motorists as we did not once see anyone else picnicking by the side of the road.
After settling into our hotel in Penzance we ate at The Union which had a Nelson Bar and a Hamilton Restaurant. The meals of fish pie and salmon with prawns were tasty. After dinner we came across another inn, The Admiral Benbow. I wondered if it had a connection to Treasure Island but discovered that this Admiral Benbow was fighting the French, his ship was wrecked and he was washed up on the Scilly Isles. The woman who found him smothered him in the sand in order to get the rings off his fingers. Because they didn’t come off easily she bit off his fingers. I wonder if karma ever caught up with her.
Land’s End! I had to pinch myself as we drove towards this famous landmark. As we pulled up outside what looked like a run down amusement park we paid our £2 for parking and saw that the park was closed. We were too early but we enjoyed the outstanding views of the coastline under a brilliant blue sky and took photos of each other standing next to a signpost denoting the spot. When a photographer arrived he was rather cross we had used his special photo stand.
I was reciting “As I was going to St Ives, I met a man with seven wives” because we were following a winding road to that very place. The beach is yellow and sandy, reminding me of home, although it is never that cold in Wollongong. We set up the gas stove on a rock wall overlooking the sea and cooked our soup and toast. Like Ilfracombe the houses climb up the hillside and the streets are narrow and crowded. Even in February parking in the town was impossible. I kept thinking, what is it like in summer?
On our way back to Penzance we spotted St Michaels Mount. After some deliberation we jumped on board the launch (£1 a head) and headed across the bay to a castle on an island. The water level varies by 4.5 metres between low and high tide and there is a causeway for use at low tide. As we were National Trust members we had free entry into the castle, part of which is lived in by the St Aubyn family who have owned it since 1650. It was incredibly livable – we both felt we could move in tomorrow.
Going back to 495 AD there are tales of seafarers lured onto the rocks of the island. The lucky ones saw the archangel St Michael warning them of certain peril and were saved. Legend has it that Jack the Giant Killer lived in the nearby village of Marazion and lured the giant, who lived on the island, to his death.
By the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066, St Michael’s Mount was owned by the monks of its sister isle, Mont St Michel in Normandy. Since then the Mount has seen many owners. The Royalists held back the forces of Oliver Cromwell from its walls, its cannons drove a Napoleonic ship ashore on Marazion Beach, its church tower beacon warned England of the approach of the Spanish Armada. It was hard to leave but it was our last night in Penzance and we ate pizza in our room with a bottle of wine.
The next day saw us in Megavissey, a working fishing villages with narrow twisting streets and shops selling local ceramics, paintings, witchcraft and food. Although the wind was cold we found a sheltered rock near the harbour and followed the example of a cat sleeping in a waterlogged boat. It was on a ledge in the sun just above water level and was soaking up the warmth.
Charlestown was different to other fishing villages in that it had a harbour constructed with dock gates so that when the tide goes out the ships still remain afloat. It has been the setting for numerous films and TV shows and when we were there three tall ships graced the harbour.
Our lunch of sandwiches was eaten alongside a rushing stream next to a medieval castle with towers and bridges all painted white. The fact that it was a homewares shopping complex detracted from the ambience but we decided against the more romantic town of Polperro in favour of getting to Plymouth before nightfall.
The holiday was coming to an end as we continued to Torquay, of Fawlty Towers fame. We gazed at the fine harbour of water unaffected by the tide as we braced against the bitterly cold wind. Of course, we asked at Tourist Information about the hotel and were told that when John Clease filmed some Monty Python footage in the area he stayed at Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay. The proprietor was so rude he based the television series on him and his hotel. The actual hotel used in the TV show was in Buckinghamshire and burnt down in 1991. Gleneagles Hotel has also made way for a modern development although it still existed in 2004. It looked nothing like the hotel of the TV series, which in 2019, was named the ‘greatest ever British TV sitcom’ by a panel of comedy experts compiled by the Radio Times.
And then it was back to Staffordshire via some interesting towns named Curry Rivel, Curry Mallet and North Curry in Somerset. John was hoping they would give some clue to the meaning of his name. Apparently Curry is derived from a Celtic word Crwy meaning boundary or then again it could derive from the name of St Cyrig, who crossed the Bristol Channel and established a small reed and wattle church in the area.
Meanwhile I had to think about returning to school but it wasn’t long before we were off on another adventure.